Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Two Web Events for Bisexual Visibility Week

Did you know yesterday was Celebrate Bisexuality Day and that this is Bisexual Visibility Week?  As part of our efforts to broaden our understanding of the full range of attraction and identity, we are pleased to present two opportunities to better understand the "B" in LGBT.

Integrity's Province I (New England) Coordinator, Marie Alford-Harkey, in her role as Deputy Director of The Religious Institute, was the lead collaborator on a guidebook for congregations entitled Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities. Please click here for more information: http://www.religiousinstitute.org/bisexuality/ 

On Saturday, September 27th, she will appear on Interfaith Alliance and Welton Gaddy's State of Belief, which will be available here: http://www.stateofbelief.com/

Then, on Wednesday, October 8th at 1pm EDT, she and the Institute's Co-Founder and President, Debra Haffner, will discuss the new book on a teleconference as part of the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual's WATERtalk series.  Please click here to register or get more information.

We hope you are able to take advantage of these opportunities.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Task Force on Study of Marriage issues update and report


The Episcopal Church Task Force on the Study of Marriage has issued the following report:
Report of work from the Task Force on the Study of Marriage
September 22, 2014

The Task Force on the Study of Marriage is continuing the work of identifying and exploring the biblical, theological, historical, liturgical, and canonical dimensions of marriage – as charged by 2012 General Convention Resolution A050 here http://www.generalconvention.org/gc/resolutions?by=number&id=a050

"We are deeply gratified by the response to our work so far,” said task force Chair, the Rev. Brian C. Taylor (Diocese of the Rio Grande). "Dearly Beloved – a resource for study and discussion about marriage – has been distributed in both English and Spanish, and its continuing use throughout the church is enhancing our process of church-wide consultation. Engagement through social media on our Facebook and YouTube pages has further extended that process. We strongly encourage those who haven’t yet participated with these resources to do so prior to General Convention, so we’re better prepared as a church to discuss these matters in Salt Lake City."

"Marriage" by Jo Christian Oterhals
Used under Creative Commons
Some rights reserved
Members of the task force also participated in a consultation sponsored by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) on same-sex marriage in Kansas City in June. This event provided an opportunity to consult with Episcopalians, ecumenical partners, and those from the wider Anglican Communion on issues regarding marriage in general, and same-sex marriage in particular.
Bishop Thomas C. Ely of Vermont, who serves on the Task Force on the Study of Marriage as well as the SCLM, said this gathering offered "much to be able to take back into our work, based on conversation with people living this reality on the ground, and hearing the pastoral challenges local clergy are facing."

Regarding the SCLM consultation, Taylor said, "Part of our charge is to consider the challenges and opportunities of the changing societal norms around marriage. So it was helpful to our task to come together for deep listening, as we continue to consider the primary question that shapes our work: 'What might our church want to say to the world today about what it is that makes a marriage holy and particularly Christian?'"

Taylor continued, "The Explanation section of our enabling resolution A050 itself raises this same question in a variety of ways, and framed both the June SCLM gathering as well as much of our work over the triennium," i.e.

As the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music developed liturgical resources for blessing same-gender relationships, it faced repeated questions about marriage. What makes a marriage Christian? What is the relationship between the Church’s blessing of a relationship, whether different-gender or same-gender, and a union, "marriage" or otherwise, created by civil law? Is the blessing of a same-gender relationship equivalent to the marriage of a different-gender couple, and if so, should this liturgy be called "marriage"? Because the Church’s understanding of marriage affects so many of its members, the Commission believes it is important to engage in a Churchwide conversation about our theology of marriage.

Working in three study groups, Task Force members are now focused on finalizing their report for presentation to the 78th General Convention. The report will include:
  • Theological and biblical essays on marriage
  • articles on the history of marriage and marriage rites
  • a look at our marriage canons past and present, and questions that they raise
  • a report on consultations, conversations, and research on current trends and norms
  • a response to the Resolution A050’s charge that the task force “address the pastoral need for priests to officiate at a civil marriage of a same- sex couple,” and
  • the toolkit Dearly Beloved
The task force is also actively considering resolutions that may flow from the content of their reports and/or from Resolution 2012-A050 itself.

Taylor spoke for the Task Force in saying, "All of our members are grateful and honored to be a part of our church’s consideration of marriage, a work that builds upon the history, ministry, struggle, and life experience of so many others through the years that have led up to this day."

Comments, questions, and concerns may be addressed to the task force through Taylor, bctaylor@me.com, or Joan Geiszler-Ludlum, vice-chair, at jcgl@ec.rr.com.

Temas Actualizados e Informe del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Estudio del Matrimonio

This progress report from the Task Force on Marriage was received via e-mail. It is available in English here.

El Grupo de Trabajo sobre el estudio del matrimonio de la Iglesia Episcopal ha emitido el siguiente informe: "Informe de la Labor del Grupo de Trabajo sobre el Matrimonio", 22 de septiembre de 2014

El Grupo de Trabajo sobre el Estudio del Matrimonio continúa la labor de identificar y explorar las dimensiones bíblicas, teológicas, históricas, litúrgicas y canónicas del matrimonio – según fue encargado por la Resolución A050 de la Convención General del 2012 indicada aquí.

"Marriage"
Crédito de la foto: Jo Christian Oterhals
Usamos con Creative Commons
Algunos derechos reservados
"Estamos profundamente satisfechos por la respuesta a nuestro trabajo hasta ahora", dijo el presidente del Grupo de Trabajo Rdo. Brian C. Taylor, y presidente de la Diócesis de Río Grande. "Querido Amado– un recurso para el estudio y debate sobre el matrimonio – se ha distribuido en inglés y español, y su continuo uso a lo largo de la iglesia está mejorando nuestro proceso de consulta de toda la iglesia. El compromiso a través de los medios sociales en nuestras páginas de Facebook y YouTube ha ampliado aún más este proceso. Recomendamos encarecidamente a los que aún no han participado de estos recursos hacerlo antes de la Convención General, para así estar mejor preparados como iglesia para discutir estos asuntos en la ciudad de Salt Lake".

Los miembros del Grupo de Trabajo también participaron en junio en una consulta patrocinada por la Comisión Permanente de Liturgia y Música (SCLM) sobre el matrimonio entre parejas del mismo sexo en Kansas City. Este evento brindó la oportunidad de consultar con los episcopales, socios ecuménicos, y los de la Comunión Anglicana en asuntos relacionados con el matrimonio en general, y el matrimonio entre parejas del mismo sexo en particular.

El obispo Thomas C. Ely de Vermont, quien se desempeña en el Grupo de Trabajo sobre el Estudio del matrimonio, así como la SCLM, dijo que esta reunión ofrece "mucho para poder tomar de nuevo nuestro trabajo, basado en la conversación con las personas que viven esta realidad en el área, y escuchan los desafíos pastorales que el clero local enfrenta".

En cuanto a la consulta de SCLM, Taylor dijo que, "Parte de nuestra responsabilidad es tener en cuenta los desafíos y las oportunidades de las normas sociales cambiantes alrededor de matrimonio. Así que fue muy útil para nuestro grupo reunirse para escuchar profundamente, a medida que continuamos examinando la cuestión principal que da forma a nuestro trabajo: '¿Qué es lo que nuestra iglesia podría decirle al mundo de hoy acerca de qué es lo que hace que un matrimonio sea santo y particularmente cristiano? '"

Taylor continuó: "La sección de explicación de nuestra propia resolución A050 permite plantea esta misma pregunta en una variedad de formas, y enmarca tanto la reunión SCLM de junio, así como gran parte de nuestro trabajo durante el trienio," es decir, Dado que la Comisión Permanente de Liturgia y Música ha desarrollado recursos litúrgicos para la bendición de uniones entre personas del mismo sexo, enfrentó preguntas repetidas sobre el matrimonio. ¿Qué hace que un matrimonio sea cristiano? ¿Cuál es la relación entre la bendición de la iglesia de una relación, ya sea de género diferente o del mismo sexo, y una unión "matrimonio" o de lo contrario, creado por la ley civil? Es la bendición de una relación del mismo sexo equivalente al matrimonio de una pareja de diferente sexo, y si es así, ¿debe esta liturgia llamarse "matrimonio"? Debido a que la iglesia entiende que el matrimonio afecta a muchos de sus miembros, que la Comisión considera que es importante participar en una conversación de toda la iglesia Nacional sobre nuestra teología del matrimonio.

En la labor en tres grupos de estudio, los miembros del Grupo de Trabajo se centran ahora en la finalización de su informe para presentarlo a la 78a Convención General. El informe incluirá:

  • Teología y ensayos bíblicos sobre el matrimonio
  • artículos sobre la historia del matrimonio y el rito del matrimonio
  • un vistazo a nuestros cánones de matrimonio del pasado y los actuales, y las preguntas que se plantean
  • un informe sobre las consultas, conversaciones y la investigación sobre las tendencias y las normas actuales
  • una respuesta a lo que le encargo a la Resolución A050 de que el grupo de trabajo "aborde la necesidad pastoral de que los sacerdotes puedan oficiar un matrimonio civil de una pareja del mismo sexo", y
  • el paquete sobre Querido Amado.

EL grupo de trabajo también está considerando activamente las resoluciones que pueden derivarse del contenido de sus informes y/o de la Resolución 2012-A050 misma.

Taylor habló por el grupo de trabajo al decir, "Todos nuestros miembros están agradecidos y honrados de ser parte de la consideración de matrimonio nuestra iglesia de, una obra que se basa en la historia, el ministerio, la lucha y la experiencia de vida de tantos otros a través de los años que han llevado hasta este día".

Comentarios, preguntas y preocupaciones pueden ser dirigidas al grupo de trabajo a Taylor, bctaylor@me.com, o Joan Geiszler-Ludlum (jcgl@ec.rr.com).

El paquete sobre “Querido Amado” se encuentra aquí
https://extranet.generalconvention.org/staff/files/download/10613

El PowerPoint de recursos de “Mantener Conversaciones” se encuentra aquí
https://extranet.generalconvention.org/staff/files/download/10446

Obtenga acceso a la página pública de la web completa para el Grupo de Trabajo A050 sobre el Matrimonio de la Convención General aquí. http://www.generalconvention.org/a050 .

LA traducción en español de “Querido Amado” se encuentra aquí https://extranet.generalconvention.org/staff/files/download/10798

Obtenga acceso a la página pública de la web completa para el Grupo de Trabajo A050 sobre el Matrimonio aquí, incluyendo su membresía.

Grupo de Trabajo en página de Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/A050taskforce

Grupo de Trabajo en YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHbLobftcghgmWgJW72qnwA/playlists

La Resolución completa A050 está disponible aquí. http://www.generalconvention.org/gc/resolutions?by=number&id=a050

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Friday, September 19, 2014

This Far By Faith: Integrity at 40


"Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult 

with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!" 

ZEPH. 3:14

Forty years ago this fall, a young English professor from Georgia named Louie Crew phoned Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, inquiring how he and his partner might find other gay Episcopalians in the city. The response was less than hospitable, but -- rather than concede or walk way -- he decided that if gay and lesbian people were going to have a home in the church, they would just have to create that community themselves.

A monthly newsletter was launched, and within a year, groups of men and women were organizing themselves into chapters across the city. Their efforts quickly drew the attention of the current Presiding Bishop, and -- before long -- it became clear that the church was not going to be making decisions about us without including us in the conversation.

We have made tremendous progress in the years since, stepping from the fringes into the heart of congregations, dioceses, and all facets of church life and leadership. As secular culture began debating about and evolving on matters like marriage equality, bullying and transgender identity, we were pleased and proud to find allies from all walks of life -- from the Presiding Bishop to heterosexual teenagers from the Midwest -- speaking out on our behalf.

As such, Integrity is gearing up to celebrate forty years of ministry in a big way. Our theme is This Far By Faith, and we will be celebrating our progress to date, taking a realistic look at where we stand, and planning for our role as the church and the world continue to change.We want to include as many of our constituents, members, allies and friends as we can, so we plan to keep the party going for a whole year!


To start, we are thrilled to announce that the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina, will celebrate the Eucharist and preach at our kickoff on Thursday, November 6 at The Church of the Good Shepard in Raleigh. If you have never heard Bishop Curry preach, we are confident that his sermon from the 2012 General Convention in Indianapolis, entitled "We Need Some Crazy Christians" will have you ready to plan your travel to this event:



This will also formally launch a local campaign we are conducting with the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and local leaders, in partnership with the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund.

Over the course of the year that follows, we will sponsor additional activities (some of which will be on-line), and we encourage our chapters and partner congregations to plan events of their own. All our local activities will be featured on our new web site, which will be launched prior to the Nov. 6 event.

The celebration will culminate at the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, coming up next summer in Salt Lake City, UT. The spectacular Integrity Eucharist, which has become a "must-do" for many convention goers, will feature the Right Rev. Mary Douglas Glasspool, Suffragan Bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles, as the preacher.

For 40 years, Integrity has served as the Episcopal voice for LGBTQ Christians. We will
be honoring Integrity's past, present, and future, and we hope you'll be a part of it.

The Board and Staff of Integrity

Friday, September 12, 2014

October LGBT Faith Conference to Feature Gene Robinson

On Saturday, Oct. 11th, the Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, IX Bishop of New Hampshire (ret.) will be part of an all-day conference on spirituality for LGBT people and their allies at All Saints: Worcester, a Believe Out Loud Episcopal Congregation in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts.

Flag array above the doors to All Saints Church
The day will include a choice of workshops, one of which will be facilitated by Marie Alford-Harkey, Integrity's Province I Coordinator.  Marie is the Deputy Director of the Religious Institute and recently collaborated on a breakthrough guidebook on ministry for and with bisexual people, which will be the topic of her seminar.  Other options are "Coming Out and Coming Home... to the Church" by the Rev. Kathy McAdams and a workshop focusing on forgiveness piloted by the Rev. Mark Seifried.

Lunch will follow the workshops, and then Bishop Robinson will celebrate the Eucharist and preach, joined by the Rt. Rev. Douglas Fisher, Bishop of Western Massachusetts; the Revs. Judith Freeman Clark and Ronald C. Crocker, Interim Co-Rectors of All Saints; and the parish choir.

Advance registration is required, either to participate in the whole day or just the Eucharist.  For details please visit the All Saints Church web site: http://www.allsaintsw.org/content.cfm?id=341. This annual event is popular and is likely to "sell out".

This event is co-sponsored by the LGBT Alliance of All Saints Church, St. John's: Sutton, and Integrity.  We are proud of and grateful for the work of Diocesan Organizer Rich Markiewicz and his organizing team.

This will be the second cooperative effort between Integrity and the Alliance this year.  This spring, we co-hosted a Believe Out Loud Congregational Workshop at All Saints, which was highlighted in the newest edition of Abundant Times, the diocesan magazine.  Click here and scroll to page 20 to read a recap of the workshop by Diocesan Communications Director Vicky Ix.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Student's Marriage Equality Presentation Opens Eyes, Hearts

This spring St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church in Virginia Beach, VA hosted a special event for its parishioners, community and the Integrity Virginia Beach Chapter. Peter Dempsey, a senior at First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach, presented his senior project, "Gay Marriage – Laws, Rights and Facts."

Integrity Province III Coordinator Susan Pederson, Chapter
member Peter Dempsey, the Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector of
 St. Aiden's: Virginia Beach
Dempsey is Integrity Virginia Beach’s youngest member. As he worked on the project, he was mentored by Susan Pederson, a chapter member and Integrity's Province III Coordinator.

Peter is an active member of St. Aidan's. His parents, Sue and Bill Dempsey, are EYC leaders at the church. St. Aidan’s has welcomed Integrity Virginia Beach Chapter on several occasions,
hosting an Integrity Eucharist and a screening of  the Gene Robinson biopic Love Free or Die in 2013. The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, rector, and many parishioners were in attendance at Peter’s presentation.

Peter began his presentation by sharing that he was inspired to make same-gender marriage the topic of his senior project because some of his friends at school are gay. "I was teary at the start," said Peter’s mom Sue, "when he said, 'I want to be loved and accepted, everyone deserves it.'"

Peter did a terrific job of engaging the audience in his presentation, including some interactive exercises that really got people talking. Conversation continued long after Peter concluded his talk. "Peter did an excellent presentation with very sound arguments to support his position," said Sharon Metz, a member of St. Aidan’s. According to Peter’s teacher, he "blew it out of the water!"

The members and leadership of Integrity Virginia Beach are very proud of Peter and his work. We realize how vital it is to support and encourage our young adult members as they prepare to become our future advocates and leaders.

Ann Turner is Integrity's Diocesan Organizer for Southern Virginia and a member of the Virginia Beach chapter.  Her "day job" is Director of Communications for the Diocese.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

My First Year in Thanksgiving and Gratitude

With The Very Rev Gary Hall

As of today, I have served as Integrity's Executive Director for one full year. It has been a wondrous journey. It is an incredible blessing to be called to serve lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, the Episcopal Church, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

This year we have seen enormous progress-we have new members and new parishes, more volunteers at large and in the office, so many victories, along with a great sense of purpose. This year our victories have included marriage equality in Oregon, progress towards passing the Equal Housing and Employment Act in Ohio, the beginnings of a renewed push for inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in the American South, and the overturning of too many anti-LGBT ordinances to list.


Today I get to thank more people than I can count, for participating in this extraordinary work and helping me bring my best to Integrity.

To each of you whom I have met over the past year, thank you for your generosity, your kindness, and your energy. It is a phenomenal joy to be a part of your life, to get to know you, and to have the chance to earn your friendship. Thank you to all the people who invited me, a young transgender woman, to speak. Thank you to all the folks who listened. Your ideas, questions and interest are a light in my life, are a thrill and an education.

Thank you to all of our leaders from the Provincial Coordinators to the Diocesan Organizers to the local Chapter Leaders for their ongoing push for freedom and recognition. Thank you for working to put on Believe Out Loud trainings, for calling attention to important LGBT work in your own communities: thank you for being an LGBT-loving presence throughout our Church.

Thank you Charlene McCreight, David Soland, Andy McQuery and everyone else who has been the driving force behind all of Integrity's successes in our Oregon freedom to work and our Ohio Equal Housing and Employment Act work. Without folks like you, we simply would not have seen the successes and progress that have made this year such a joy.

To folks like the Rev. Valori Sherer and the Rev. Vic Mansfield who have welcomed Integrity's work in North Carolina, thank you for your energy, optimism, and faith for the future of the South.

To the Rev. Dr. Patrick Cheng and all those who attended Integrity's Campus Ministry retreat, thank you.

To the Rev. David Norgard, the Rev. Cameron Partridge, Mara Keisling, Alison Amyx and everyone else who had shared their wisdom with me over the past year, thank you.

To the Integrity staff, thank you for your dedication, creativity, and excellent work. I couldn't have done any of this without you.

To Integrity's Board of Directors, thank you for your guidance, your direction, and your engagement.

To all of the people who have generously supported Integrity financially, thank you for making it possible for us to do this work. Everything that Integrity does costs money. Thank you for not only recognizing the importance of Integrity's work, but also giving to ensure that our work can continue, that we can keep moving forward, ensuring that our beloved Church is open to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people everywhere.

Thank you God for the blessing of this work. Thank you God for these people and this Church and this world. Please lift us up to follow Your way for us.

The first year was incredible, but we are not done yet. We are not done when the Episcopal Church's inclusive policies are not yet fully instituted in all places and communities. We are not done yet when so many are still excluded from the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. We are not done yet when an entire generation of young LGBTQ have not yet found reconciliation with the Church. We are not yet done when many LGBTQ people in the American South do not even feel safe to be out in their own parishes. We are not done when gay and transgender people still do not have basic legal protections in many states. We are not done yet so long as the constant drum beat of violence and murder again transgender and gay people continues.

As Christ said in the Gospel of Luke, The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." Together let us move forward and bring in the great harvest of Love and Justice!

Let's keep going!

Vivian

Sarah Vivian Gathright Taylor is the Executive Director of Integrity USA



Friday, August 29, 2014

Announcement of Special Election

Dear Members:

It is my duty as Chair of the Stakeholders’ Council of Integrity to inform you that I have received notice from the Board Secretary, Mel Soriano, that the Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall has informed him that she has resigned from her duties as Board President.

Pursuant to Chapter 2, Article 4, Section 5, Paragraph C of the Bylaws, I will work with Mel and the Council Vice-Chair, the Rev. Deacon Carolyn Woodall, to prepare a call for nominations for a special election for the office of President to serve out the current term, which concludes on 1st October 2015.

Pursuant to Chapter 2, Article 1, Section 3, Paragraph A, only Integrity members whose dues are paid and current at the time of issuance of this letter are eligible to be nominated. We will share a job description for the office and instructions for nominations next week.

As described in Chapter 3, Article 1, Section 1, members of the Stakeholders’ Council with seat, voice, and vote are eligible to participate in the special election. These include:
  • Chapter Conveners (chapter must be active and up-to-date with requirements)
  • Diocesan Organizers
  • Congregational Circle Moderators (up-to-date with requirements)
  • Partner Representatives (P2 Organizational Partners & P3 Congregational Partners) (up-to-date with requirements)
  • Lifetime Members
I will work with Director of Development, Sam Peterson, to verify the pool of eligible voters. These people will be notified individually with instructions for reviewing the candidates and balloting.

Interim Leadership

While the election process is underway, the Board has agreed that the following responsibilities be in effect:
  • The Rev. Jon Richardson, VP - National Affairs will chair board meetings and be the point of contact for concerns related to the Board.
  • Matt Haines, VP - Local Affairs will support the staff and be the point of contact related to concerns related to the staff, as well as continuing to support the local network of Provincial Coordinators and Diocesan Organizers.
  • I will continue to support and be the contact for the Stakeholders not listed above, which include Chapter Conveners, Life Members, and Partner Representatives.
If you are unsure as to the best point of contact for your concern, please contact our office and they will assist you.

The Board thanks Dr. Hall for her dedication and service and respects her decision to resign. We wish her abundant blessings in the days ahead.

Sincerely,

Christian M. Paolino
Chair, Integrity Stakeholders' Council

Kay Smith Riggle: Moved by the Spirit to Take a Stand

Kay Smith Riggle
I was reared in a Christian home and in the Baptist church. There were many influences on my faith. Some were good and some were not so good but my mother had profound influence particularly in how others were treated. If I ever made an unkind comment about someone, she would always say, "there but for the grace of God go I." She lived into those words. If a person was being treated unkindly or "less than", she was always the one to step forward to stop the injustice…..or at least make the attempt. Oh, do I have stories!! As her daughter, I find myself doing the same thing.

The time came when I saw the Baptist faith I was reared in treat others "less than" and unjustly. I walked away. My faith in the church suffered but my faith in God never wavered. After 30 years a friend invited me to the Episcopal Church and I found a home there. The Baptismal Covenant resonated deeply with me especially the statement, "Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?" I knew I had found a home.

I had always wondered what had inspired my mother to take the stands she did and why I find myself doing the same. It seemed that the urge to stand up in the face of injustice was something I could not shake. I referred to these urges as "spiritual kicks in the butt." And then I was introduced to the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton through her blog, Telling Secrets. She introduced me to an aspect of Holy Spirit that I knew well but not by name. Her name is Shekinah, and I will let Elizabeth introduce you to her.

And that is why this letter was written to the Valdosta State University President, William McKinney.
Dear President McKinney,

For many years I have taken a great deal of pride in living in a community with a university. Valdosta State University offers our community a variety of educational opportunities, differing opinions and staff who are engaged in their community. This is a huge asset to our community and surrounding areas.

I must say that I was stunned to see an announcement that Dr. Ben Carson would be coming to Valdosta State University to speak to the School of Business. Ben Carson, as I am sure you know, has formed a PAC and selected a 2016 Campaign Chairperson "should he decide to run for President of the United States." One of the reasons I was so stunned is that I am a former state employee. I remember quite clearly the training that state employees had prior to every election. We were told that while on the job we could not promote a specific candidate, we could use no state monies nor could any state facility be used to support or promote a specific candidate. Those of us who traveled were advised to not put bumper stickers on our personal cars if the car was used in our official duties. We were advised that even the appearance of violating these policies could put our jobs in jeopardy. We were told that we could advocate for issues and educate politicians but supporting a candidate as part of our job or on a state time was not allowed and we could lose our jobs as a result.

I don’t understand how VSU can bring Ben Carson in in view of state policies. Have the policies changed? Is the university system different? Even if there have been changes or policies differ, supporting a candidate or party as a state university is not a wise decision.” As the old saying goes, if you haven’t "backed the right horse" you could stand to lose for the university and for the community.

The second issue that I find troubling is Ben Carson’s views on homosexuality. He compares homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality. John Hopkins University (the university that employed him for more than 30 years) had invited him to speak at the 2013 graduation. In reaction to Ben Carson’s statements regarding homosexuality, Dr. Paul Rothman, the dean of medical faculty at Johns Hopkins University, said in a statement that Carson's words were offensive but emphasized the school's belief in free speech as well. Dr Rothman said, "We recognize that tension now exists in our community because hurtful, offensive language was used by our colleague, Dr. Ben Carson, when conveying a personal opinion. Dr. Carson’s comments are inconsistent with the culture of our institution." Carson stepped down as speaker. Emory University also withdrew an invitation for him to speak.

The mission statement of VSU proclaims that social justice is promoted. Also, VSU also has a Safe Space program that promotes a safe, secure environment so that a person of the LGBTQ community never feels harassed or unwanted at VSU. I cannot imagine that the VSU LGBTQ community feels the welcome that the words and programs of VSU seem to imply. I can tell you that -- as a member of the LGBTQ community -- I feel a little less safe in our community with a person who espouses extreme homophobic views having the red carpet rolled out for him by the local university.

As Dr. Rothman of John Hopkins so wisely stated, "It is clear that the fundamental of freedom of speech has been placed in conflict with our core values of diversity, inclusion and respect." As an individual, I most definitely support freedom of speech, but that does not free a person from the consequences of that speech. I would suggest that you follow the example of the two highly respected universities and withdraw your invitation to Ben Carson to speak at VSU.

Sincerely,

Kay Smith Riggle

Kay Smith Riggle is the current convener of Integrity Georgia. She and her wife Sarah Smith Riggle are long-time residents of Valdosta, GA.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Success In Fayetteville

Since coming out as a priest who happens to be transgender nearly six months ago I have embarked on a great adventure that has involved a little bit of traveling. In June I had the great privilege to take my first ever road trip. I considered it a pilgrimage. I drove from Little Rock to Washington D.C. for the liturgy at the National Cathedral honoring Pride month and the LGBT community. I went to hear a good friend preach in that magnificent building. I was honored, and humbled, to have had the opportunity to attend a reception at the Dean’s residence following the liturgy.

Getting there was as much a part of my pilgrimage as the few days spent in the nation’s capital connecting with old friends and making new ones. My first night on the road was spent with an Episcopal Youth Community (EYC) friend from back in the day. We had reconnected on Facebook after years of being out of touch and quickly discovered that she had recently embarked on a journey of her own and it was really good to reconnect personally. The visit also gave me a chance to educate her significant other about what it’s like being transgender. Although I gently corrected them on things like using the hurtful “T” word and asking about “The Procedure”, there wasn't any malice in the questions. It was honest curiosity from a caring person who didn't have the knowledge. After all, I was the first transgender person that they had ever (knowingly) met and we continued the conversation late into the evening.

The journey continued with my trip back to Little Rock, when I took the northern route so I could return home for my mother’s birthday. Visiting my mom is always an interesting time for me, especially these days since I haven’t come out to her. I realize it wouldn’t be fair to her at this time in her life. I brought flowers and a card to her memory support unit and as I entered through the doors of the common area, as DRAB as is possible for me these days, she turned and I saw that flicker of recognition in her eyes. Waves of emotions washed over me as my eyes welled up. She looked at me and smiled as we made our way downstairs to the Bistro for a birthday celebration, along the way, she told nearly everyone we passed, “this is my daughter.” There was the Skyline Chili, and the special rib place that the locals know about, there were all the meaningful places filled with a lifetime of memories revisited on my great solo road trip and adventure, but nothing came close to the unexpected grace that took place in the journey from the memory support floor to the Bistro.

On July 25th events beginning with a Friday evening at a National Center for Transgender Equality event, an HRC Summer of Conversations event on Saturday, and culminating in me assisting at the Eucharists at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Sunday morning. It was wonderful connecting for the first time with members and allies of the trans community in Northwest Arkansas. As it turns out the journey took an unexpected turn when I shared a meal and found a deep connection with new friends at lunch on Saturday. Amazing things can happen when people gather around a table for a common meal. Nothing, however, prepared me for what took place on Sunday morning. Many in the trans community and allies from the Fayetteville area, attended those services at St. Paul’s. They were welcomed by the gathering community at the parish. (I notice those sorts of things these days.) I suspect many knew it was a safe place because of their experience with the parish. I suspect others came in solidarity. To support me in I was back on the road, this time to Fayetteville, Arkansas. It would be a full weekend of their midst and each other in the community.

And then it happened again. More unexpected grace was experienced in the journeys from the altar to the rail and from the pews to the altar. It was a first communion for many. It was a welcoming seat at the table with room for all. It was a sacred moment. Head down. Hands outstretched to receive. Shoulders quivering with emotions as my trans friends experienced acceptance, love, and wholeness. As did this priest. The body of Christ, the bread of heaven.

The people of Fayetteville took a pretty amazing journey of their own this week. In the wee hours of Wednesday morning (“We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed...”) and after 10 hours of public comment and debate, the City Council passed an anti-discrimination ordinance by a vote of 6-2. Those friends I had made just a few weeks ago queued up and spoke out about the discrimination and violence they have endured at the hands of those who don’t believe they have a right to exist. It was not an easy journey for them. Many of the opponents in the council chamber spoke about bathrooms and pedophiles, mental illness and sin. And in the end, my brothers and sisters in the trans community and our allies, made their own pilgrimage of sorts from the back of the room to the podium to tell their stories and witness to the reality of living their lives authentically. It was a huge decision and accomplishment for many of them to overcome the fear of loss and prejudice and discrimination with their detractors in their midst. Speaking the truth in love always has costs, and we never know where it may lead before we embark on that journey. But I believe we all experience grace along the way.

My friends in the LGBT community weren't the only ones who benefited early Wednesday morning, with the passage of this anti-discrimination ordinance. The city of Fayetteville was given a gift of grace as well in the amazing example of leadership by their elected council members and area clergy. Let us never forget the risk individual members of the council took in making the decision to verbally support and vote for this expansion of equality for all the city’s residents. What it came down to is the integrity of community members like Alderman Matthew Perry who proposed this ordinance. In his final comments before the vote he said, “...I think the stories we’ve heard tonight – which have been absolutely courageous in their telling – are evidence that there are issues [of discrimination].” Alderman Mark Kinion added, “We must step forward bravely and with immediacy. We must admit that there is the possibility of an unsafe environment for individuals here. It is our responsibility as elected officials to look out for those minorities who cannot fight for themselves.”

After 10 hours of comment and debate, after all these pilgrimages and journeys, travels - and trips to the altar rail, finding empty seats at the table after so many risked everything those wee hours of Wednesday morning, Mayor Lioneld Jordan had a word of unexpected grace before the final vote was taken.

“If you don’t depart, you don’t arrive.”


The Rev. Gwen Fry is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas; she is the former Priest in Charge at Grace Episcopal Church, Pine Bluff and is now working as a Supply Priest throughout the diocese. She also serves as the Diocesan Coordinator for Episcopal Relief & Development.

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